TORRINGTON – Lingle Police Chief Endra Andrews always tells the community that his job is to maintain the perception that there is little or no crime in the area.
The reality, however, is that rural Goshen County still experiences all types of crime, especially domestic violence and sexual assault.
“I think we have a lot of misconceptions, a lot of terrible beliefs about domestic violence,” Andrews said.
The Goshen County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force is one of the resources available to the county, along with law enforcement.
The task force’s executive director, Michelle Powell, said domestic violence is often seen to mean only physical abuse because of the way it is portrayed on television. Powell said most people expect to see bruises or other signs of physical abuse when someone pretends to be in an abusive relationship.
“Domestic violence is a pattern that takes many, many forms. It’s layers upon layers,” Powell said. “So it’s like starting with you know what I can’t live without you I don’t know how I’m gonna move on without you you’re the best thing in my life hey you don’t need to hang around with it anymore your friends like me and you are one thing… it’s all these little red flags and everyone starting to get on top of each other, they’re overlapping.
Powell said the clues are hard to grasp, and young people in a relationship can feel like what the person is saying is true. From Chief Andrews’ perspective, some may not understand that they are in an abusive relationship until it becomes physical.
“When you start seeing bruises, there are so many layers of domestic violence that are happening and it’s just now that it depends,” Andrews said.
In situations where it turns into physical abuse, Powell said it happens when the abuser feels like they’re losing control. Powell also said it’s important to be educated about how domestic violence cases start and how often they happen.
When it comes to law enforcement, evidence is needed to charge a crime that can be difficult in some areas of domestic violence such as stalking and verbal threats.
Chief Andrews said law enforcement received reports of domestic violence long before the abuse and did not have the full history when they first heard of the case.
“What is interesting is that the [victims] are already horny so they know what’s going on and they come up to us and they look hysterical because I’m like seriously he walked past your house what’s wrong? Because they’re already hysterical and we’re back here trying to figure out what’s going on, it doesn’t seem to matter that much…”
Andrews said victims of domestic violence can tell when they are being threatened when the abuser makes statements such as “I will never stop loving you” or “till death do us part” which may not seem threatening to people outside the relationship.
“As officers we have to be able to listen and walk through the hysteria because they are already scared, they are terrified. We have to be able to listen to that and try to articulate what they’re saying and what they’re feeling in order to help them.
Powell said that in some cases officers actually respond to a call from a neighbor or child rather than the victim who may not want to report it. This stems from the victim thinking about all the things they could lose as a result, such as their partner’s house or income.
The task force is completely confidential according to Powell and does not require victims to report crimes to the police. It is important for the task force to establish a positive relationship between the police service and the victims. In sexual assault cases, Powell said victims are often treated as “perpetrators” because of questions such as “what were you wearing” and “why would you want to go out drinking and go to a party with a college student. ?” Powell said the task force’s work is always victim-focused. Developing safety plans with customers is one way they help, but Powell said they never tell the victim they have to leave.
“I always tell them I’m not walking for you, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, but I’ll be there to support you,” Powell said.
Powell added that some officers have the opportunity to learn and better understand incidents of domestic violence.
“It’s a tough subject,” Powell said. “And there is so much more.”
Compared to other things police need to train for, Chief Andrews said it was very difficult to learn how to deal with domestic violence cases.
“When we have to get out of training, it’s not something that a lot of people want to train in because it actually forces you to check yourself and look at who you are,” Andrews said.
When victims are told to rehash their stories and relive the experience, Andrews says they become victims again and are blamed for editing their stories. Along with this, Andrews said judgments are often directed against the victim, which also re-traumatizes them. It can even make victims wonder if it really happened to them.
Andrews said a common misconception is the commonality of misrepresentation for domestic violence cases, as most cases are usually not reported by the victim and it is highly unlikely that someone will come in and misrepresent such crime. Reports of fake rape cases are even rarer as Powell said no one wants to go through all the trouble if it’s fake, including all the societal stereotypes surrounding it.
Other cases of sexual assault differ from rape because of the trust between the two. The trust in play is why many people don’t report such cases according to Powell, because they believe the blame will be assigned to them instead.
The work of the Sexual Assault Case Task Force also extends to prison through the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) as they assist WMCI victims who have reported assault sexual.
“They have the right to outside counsel so they can call our hotline at any time and say, ‘I was sexually assaulted, I want to go to the hospital,’ so it’s not just our local community .”
While some believe prisoners shouldn’t be given help, Powell said jail was their punishment and they didn’t deserve to be assaulted as a result.
When Powell first speaks to a client about being assaulted, she shows him a “power and control wheel” that shows how non-physical domestic violence actually is. These types of power and control methods include male privilege, coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimization, denial and blame, use of children, and violence. economic.
Victims can often feel that a situation is escalating and may experience more pain from the emotional abuse rather than being actually physically hurt. Powell said some victims might prefer physical abuse in order to defuse the problem or return to the “honeymoon phase.”
“Honestly, what we see with verbal abuse if there’s no physical abuse is that it’s just constant,” Powell said. “Because it’s emotional abuse all day.”
Since most non-physical methods of the power and control wheel are not prosecutable offenses, Andrews said law enforcement should wait until it escalates into physical violence, which which occurs much later.
On the side of the task force, they seek to understand the situation of the victim because they are generally not the first to be informed of the incidents. Powell said sometimes family and friends can be frustrated to help and not fully understand what is going on.
For those who have a family member or friend who is a victim of domestic violence, Powell said it’s important to stay with them and be understanding as it can take up to seven times for victims to leave. aggressor. Powell also said leaving is the most dangerous point in the relationship because the abuser has lost his power and control.
If clients choose to leave their situation, the working group has resources to help them as well as a confidential refuge for those who may need it.
According to Powell, the number one goal of the task force is to establish a support system to help victims in a domestic violence situation.
“If your support system is in Florida, how can we get you there if that’s what you choose,” Powell said.
While there are many hurdles for law enforcement when dealing with domestic violence cases, Andrews said the most important thing is to deal with half-truths in cases where the victim may also have done something. something illegal. According to Andrews, the victim needs to have confidence in order to do their job properly. Andrews also said law enforcement’s need for only facts and evidence can also cause problems.
For Powell, the biggest hurdle in sexual assault cases is helping victims understand that it’s not their fault. With the domestic violence cases, Powell said the biggest challenge is determining next steps when choosing to move due to the lack of low-income housing and other resources in the area.
“Our barriers here are the lack of housing resources,” Powell said.
Powell said she’s also seen people brought to Goshen County by their abusers because it’s more isolated and can disconnect them from their families.
The task force relies heavily on donations to continue to help clients find appropriate resources. Having money helps pay for bus rides and other ways to get out of the area if needed.
While one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence, the statistic is almost as common for men as one in six will be a victim. Powell said the men she works with stay with their abuser for a long time because they are embarrassed to report him to the police station. Andrews also said that in some cases with male victims, they may say they were the abuser for their reactions rather than saying they were abused. Powell has seen instances where men were unwilling to report because they thought the police might side with their attacker instead.
For Powell, the most important step for the community is to be the solution by learning more about domestic violence and ways to help those in need. Powell said help can range from volunteering at the task force to community outreach.
“Find out and change it,” Powell said. “It’s happening in Goshen County, but we need to come together as a community to better educate ourselves and work together.”